Spain's leader unworried about Catalonia election meddling
Spain's prime minister said Wednesday he is confident his government could handle any outside attempts to tamper with the election he called in Catalonia to put down an independence push led by separatist politicians.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declined to give details on what security measures Spain would take to prevent or counter electronic interference with next month's regional election, but said "people will vote with complete liberty."
Spanish Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal said Monday that "many actions" to mount a misinformation campaign to destabilize Catalonia had "come from Russian territory" and elsewhere in recent months. However, both Cospedal and Rajoy said Spain had no indication the Russian government was involved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed insinuations of Russian meddling in Catalonia as unsubstantiated.
"We consider these accusations unfounded," Peskov said Wednesday, adding that Spain's concerns sounded like a "continuation of the hysteria in the U.S. and some other countries."
Speaking during a visit to Belarus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also rejected the idea that efforts to undermine other countries' elections were originating in Russia.
"A possible explanation is that in capitals where such accusations come from, be it Madrid or London, there are plenty of unresolved domestic problems," Lavrov said. "They probably engage in such sensational hysteria in order to deflect voters' attention from the inability to solve those domestic problems."
The European Union's strategic communications unit — the East StratCom Task Force — recently reported several instances of disinformation coming from Russian news outlets linked to the Kremlin.
Spain's government hasn't provided evidence to back the interference claim. Cospedal declined Monday to say what impact the misinformation might have on the Dec. 21 regional elections in Catalonia, or how big the alleged fake news campaign was.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis last week referred to a recent London meeting between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a prominent Catalan pro-independence figure, saying there were signs that Assange and others "are trying to interfere and manipulate" amid the Catalonia crisis.
Rajoy used extraordinary powers to call early elections in Catalonia as part of an effort to derail a push by separatists to create an independent Catalan state.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report; Wilson contributed from Barcelona, Spain.
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